Fun, frank and fear­less fem­i­nist man­i­festo

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS - TANYA SWEENEY

If you’ve spent any sig­nif­i­cant amount of time on­line, es­pe­cially in the most fem­i­nist reaches of the in­ter­net, there’s a very good chance you are fa­mil­iar with Brisbane writer Cle­men­tine Ford.

A slayer of man-baby trolls, po­lar­is­ing teller of hard truths and fem­i­nist flamethrower, Ford is rarely far from on­line up­roar.

More­over, she fights back with élan, nam­ing and sham­ing com­menters who ver­bally at­tack or threaten her. If any­thing, the abuse acts as a spur of sorts. “Every time some­one calls me a ‘fem­i­nazi’, I power up by five points,” she tweeted in 2016. More re­cently, she com­mented: “I knew hav­ing a baby would con­fuse the an­gry scared lit­tle men.”

Her writ­ing for Ade­laide’s Sun­day Mail has been at one clear-eyed, caus­tic and fear­less. A book was a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

Yet Fight Like a Girl ar­rives at a par­tic­u­larly cu­ri­ous time, not least be­cause it’s pub­lished on the back of an en­tire tsunami of sim­i­lar tomes.

It’s cer­tainly no bad thing, but book­shelves are awash with unapolo­getic fem­i­nist man­i­festos. Jes­sica Valenti, Laura Bates, Caro­line Cri­ado-Perez, Lau­rie Penny, Lindy West… when it comes to guid­ance and teach­ings, young fem­i­nists have rarely had it so good. Like­wise, you don’t need to ven­ture far on the in­ter­net to find hot takes on #MeToo, the gen­der pay gap, ev­ery­day sex­ism, At­tack: Ford writes on the rape and mur­der of Ir­ish­woman Jill Meagher, who died in Mel­bourne in 2012

re­pro­duc­tive rights. That the fem­i­nist polemic is ev­ery­where is en­cour­ag­ing, but in a pub­lish­ing sense, it does mean that the mar­ket is crowded, and it takes an ex­tra­or­di­nary writer to find some leben­sraum amid it all.

For­tu­nately, Ford has more than enough tal­ent for that. The book gets off to a rather slug­gish start as she takes an in­ven­tory of top­ics like rape cul­ture, sex­ual vi­o­lence, Trump, and on­line abuse.

So far, so un­re­mark­able, yet Ford then makes an in­trigu­ing ad­mis­sion: that as a young­ster, the idea of fem­i­nism was near anath­ema to her. Like many

women of her age, the thir­tysome­thing writer be­lieved in her teens that the fight for gen­der equal­ity was over, and had been all but won by a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of joy­less, brit­tle fem­i­nists.

“At 17 I was Not A Fem­i­nist — but for all the in­tel­lec­tual jus­ti­fi­ca­tions I could try to make now, the rea­son was pretty sim­ple,” she writes. “I was over­whelm­ingly scared of how it would make other peo­ple think of me. And when I say ‘other peo­ple’, I mean ‘boys’.”

Ford weaves much per­sonal and con­fes­sional writ­ing through Fight Like a Girl, and for a fire­brand like her, the re­sult is star­tlingly in­ti­mate. The can­dour and vul­ner­a­bil­ity of her per­sonal writ­ing is at odds with her sup­posed com­bat­ive style, and should put the reader in mind of Lindy West, an­other fem­i­nist who has de­liv­ered a ti­tle that’s part call to arms, part per­sonal mem­oir.

As a teenager, she felt like a sex­less and unattrac­tive ‘blob’. She spent time in the Mid­dle East and UK thanks in part to her fa­ther’s need to re­lo­cate for work, and by the time she ar­rived in the UK, she re­alised that los­ing sig­nif­i­cant amounts of weight made her more vis­i­ble, and even ac­com­plished, to oth­ers.

The re­al­i­sa­tion kick­started an eat­ing dis­or­der in her teens, and from there Ford grap­pled with a num­ber of is­sues re­lat­able to many women: ques­tion­ing her sex­u­al­ity, men­tal health chal­lenges, on­line ha­rass­ment and abor­tion.

Fight Like a Girl is not a cat­a­logue of girly mis­ery: far from it. It’s to her credit that she rarely strays into solip­sism. In­stead, there’s much here for read­ers, both male and fe­male, to find both valu­able and re­lat­able.

In one chap­ter, Ford writes on the rape and mur­der of Ir­ish­woman Jill Meagher, who died in Mel­bourne in 2012.

We have al­ready heard all too often about how the me­dia ob­serves as how “lam­en­ta­ble” it is when a per­pe­tra­tor’s life is de­stroyed be­cause of “20 min­utes of ac­tion”. Still, it’s a par­tic­u­larly rous­ing and in­sight­ful piece of writ­ing. Many of Ford’s writ­ings aren’t par­tic­u­larly new to those versed in sim­i­lar writ­ings. Yet any­one hop­ing for an in­tro­duc­tion to the most press­ing top­ics in iden­tity pol­i­tics would do well to brush up un­der Ford’s tute­lage.

Ul­ti­mately though, it’s the wit and sear­ing hon­esty of her own per­sonal life laid bare where Fight Like a Girl truly shines.

NON-FIC­TION Fight Like a Girl Cle­men­tine Ford OneWorld books, pa­per­back, 304 pages, €18.20

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